My husband Brad and I departed Many Glacier Lodge in Montana’s Glacier National Park at dawn as the sun glinted golden over Swiftcurrent Lake. We hiked most of the morning through thick forest, our breath misting into the crisp air.
I was not a happy hiker. I complained a lot on the 11-mile trek: the pack straps seared my flesh, a fly buzzed my head, I was hot, I was cold, and I needed more M&M’s.
Still, it was hard to stay grumpy in the midst of such beauty.
Jagged gray peaks rose against a sapphire sky. Wildflowers bowed their sunny heads in the breeze. The air was so fresh and clean, the inside of my nose tingled. I was like Maria von Trapp — well, a slightly crabbier Maria — as I stood in an open field on a plateau ringed by snow-capped mountains. Far below, a glacial lake sparkled the blue-green shade of Aquafresh, and above us the mountains loomed. It was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen.
Admiration for my surroundings didn’t last, though.
About midnight, I woke up with a jolt. The nylon tent flapped violently as gusts shuddered across the plateau. Sweat, nausea, and panic overwhelmed me.
“Brad! I feel gross! I think I’m going to throw-up!” I shook him from a peaceful sleep. “Are we OK?! The tent! It’s blowing over!”
Brad assured me that the wind sounded worse than it was. Still, my pulse pounded in my ears, and the tent felt cramped.
“I’m going to step outside for a minute.” I figured the fresh air would ease my claustrophobia.
I crawled out onto the rock and stood up. It was breezy, but not the gale force I had imagined.
As I shivered in my flannels, arms wrapped around my chest, I felt scared and small. A baffling mix of agoraphobia and claustrophobia swept through me. The mountains loomed above, the glacial snow ripping dramatic, ghostly swaths of white across the darkness. The land was so vast that I felt squashed; the mountains were an enormous vice squeezing the breath from my body. The realization that I was trapped, stranded 11 miles on foot from civilization in bear-ridden blackness terrified me.
I ducked back into the tent. “It’s not helping!” I gasped. “I want to leave! Can we leave now?”
Brad stared at me in disbelief. “Now? Are you kidding?” he asked. “You want to pack up and leave? How do you think we’re going to find our way back to the lodge in the middle of the night?”
He was right, leaving was impossible. I started to cry. I felt like my world was spiraling out of control and I didn’t like it.
The rest of the night I dozed with my face pressed into a tiny opening in the zipped nylon, trying to negotiate a balance between in and out of the tent. At 5 a.m. we packed up our campsite and began the 11-mile hike back out.
I didn’t know God then. I’d like to think that if I had, I would have recognized His power in those massive mountains and responded with awe, instead of terror. But the truth is, ten years later, I’m still reluctant to embrace the bigness of God. I try to define Him in a way my rational mind can comprehend, and that’s simply not possible. Just like a map wouldn’t have done a bit of good at midnight in the wilds of Glacier, my attempts to compartmentalize God into a logical system that will guide me step-by-rational-step through the mountains of life are innately flawed.
As Donald Miller says in Blue Like Jazz, “Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe.” I know I deprive myself of experiencing awe often, because awe is too Glacier-mountain big. I can’t control it. I can’t always explain it or neatly define, rationalize, or analyze it. And that makes me feel powerless, small, and afraid.
I’ve learned a lot since that night in Glacier. Perhaps most importantly, feeling powerless has taught me the importance of surrender. I need to relinquish control in every area of my life to God. This doesn’t come easy for me, the “Triple Type A” woman who likes life to march along with military precision. Yet in surrender I discover first-hand that He won’t abandon me when life’s challenges and disappointments threaten to crush me like a craggy mountain.
Surrender is what Jesus asks of me in Matthew: “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). I’m to abandon myself — my insecurities, fears, anxieties, and doubts — and accept His authority in all aspects of my life, remembering that His plans for me are good.
Each day I’m given a choice: to struggle fruitlessly for control, or to let go and lose my life to become more Christ-like. Too often I fight against surrender and persist in the battle for control. But in those moments when I stop fighting and start trusting, I find life as Jesus intended.
Sometimes I desire to return to Glacier and stand surrounded once again by the massive mountains that overwhelmed me that night. I want the opportunity to experience awe, not panic, as I bask in the beauty that speaks of, as the Psalmist wrote, the God whose greatness is unsearchable.